Formula 350 Sun SportBy Capt. Bill Pike
My first experiences with dayboating were some of the most pivotal of my life. And at the heart of almost every one was a riveted-aluminum Lone Star skiff outfitted with a 40-hp Evinrude. The ol' Lone Star was robustly powered for her era (the 1950's), and my dad used to let my brother and I steer for short stints almost every time we hit the watery trail, convincing me to stick close to boats for the rest of my life, something I've been able to do for the most part.
All this stuff came to mind the morning I caught my first glimpse of Formula's latest dayboat, the 350 Sun Sport. Although the 350 was way out front in terms of technology and styling, she twanged my heartstrings in the very same way the Lone Star used to. While nodding gently from a slip in the marina behind the Sanibel Harbor Resort in Fort Myers, Florida, she sweetly conjured lustrous summer days on the water, replete with diving contests off the swim platform, idle-speed tours through velvet-smooth coves, picnic-style cockpit lunches, and long, lazy afternoons spent water-skiing and just zoomin' around.
The vessel's optional Flagship Imron graphics also got me to thinking about something I'd never really considered before: the radical way the dayboat genre has changed since I was knee-high to a bollard. Heck, the modest standards that my dad's boat offered included little more than running lights and flotation foam under the seats. The standards list on the 350? After shooting a glance or two at her sparkling Taylor Made wraparound windshield and her crisp, baseball-seamed cockpit upholstery (created by Formula craftsmen from DriFast foam and StarLite XL synthetic marine vinyl with weather-resistant PreFixx coating), I was fairly certain she was comfortable enough to qualify as a vacation cruiser, not just a plain as-advertised dayboat.
My daydreaming was interrupted by Formula rep Jim Snyder. "Little warm this mornin'," he offered as he helped me aboard with my test gear. Snyder is from Formula's headquarters in Decatur, Indiana, where the weather tends to be way less steamy than it was here. He slid open the 350's companionway hatch, allowing a cool, air-conditioned woosh to emanate. "How 'bout we take a look down here first?"
Did I say cool? Well, lemme change that to frost-bitten. Our 350 had been optioned out with a 16,000-Btu Marine Air unit (installed below the hanging locker at the rear of the saloon), and somebody'd dialed her into the Antarctic range. "Small but effective," I commented. "Feels like it's gonna snow!"
The layout was straightforward. Up forward there was a U-shape dinette area (convertible for sleeping) with UltraLeather cushions and recessed, under-cushion table stowage. Aft was a large queen-size, athwartships berth with Sensus memory foam (a comfy situation, but the stern-most occupant has to crawl over his/her partner to get out of bed). And in between we shivered in a saloon with a modular galley to port and a head to starboard (with a shower but no separate shower stall). Significant features included solid-hardwood drawers with dovetailed corners, expertly crafted Corian countertops, a savvily installed under-counter Isotherm refrigerator (opposite the galley area), and other top-shelf appliances. Having become a soft, semisybarite over the years, I figure my wife and I could do a week onboard all by ourselves, no problem. Add a guest or two, and we'd probably go with an overnighter.
I headed topside, and Snyder followed along, as I hit the engine-hatch button, thus electro-hydraulically revealing our powerplants: twin 425-hp MerCruiser 496 MAG HOs SeaCore Bravo Three monsters. "Whooee! This baby oughta make a mile," I noted while admiring the fact that Formula had not shoehorned a soundbox around the optional Kohler genset, thereby rendering service chores virtually impossible. Gensets in sound-insulated engine rooms don't need soundboxes! "Yup," agreed Snyder, wiping oil off a dipstick.
I bopped out of the slip with about two clicks of the DTS engine control; Bravo Three drives give you plenty of directionality and maneuvering clout, no doubt about it. Once the Formula was in open water, I pointed the bow at an empty stretch of horizon and opened 'er up.
Two developments ensued. First: nostalgia. The ineffable something I'd felt while just looking at the 350 at the marina came back. For a while I felt like a 12-year-old boy again, driving the ol' man's Lone Star as fast as she'd go.
Second: a full-fledged adrenaline rush, after which I was back in the moment big time, driving a nasal-inflating wild thing with an average top speed of 58.2 mph and a palpable racing pedigree. Visibility was superb. Bennett tab rockers were positioned for easy manipulation just ahead of my fingertips once I'd slammed the hammer down. And the super-tight turns the boat could carve! I chortled all the way back to the marina.
"Whattaya think?" asked Snyder as I returned our dayboaty-yet-cruise-capable 350 Sun Sport to her slip, stern-first. "Hotter than a two-dollar pistol." I opined.
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Our test boat's Mercury Marine SeaCore system should send corrosion packing. Abaft the transom the aluminum in both the lower gear cases of our Bravo Three drives and the upper drive shaft housings were hard-anodized, meaning they'd been subjected to a proprietary process that makes them electrically/galvanically nonconductive and super-resistant to corrosive penetration; the only material harder than hard-anodized aluminum, Mercury says, is diamonds. In addition, all in-the-water components of SeaCore-protected powerplants that are not made of stainless steel are painted using a special, six-step corrosion-resistant regimen.
Forward of the transom are more features. SeaCore-protected engines all have closed freshwater cooling systems, ceramic-coated or stainless steel exhaust elbows, numerous other corrosion-resistant stainless steel fittings (like motor mounts, studs, and fasteners), and totally convenient freshwater flushing ports—you simply hook up a garden-type hose and send all that corrosive salt water back where it came from. No chemical flush products needed. A good deal, especially for us saltwater boaters.—B.P.
This article originally appeared in the January 2008 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.